Aerodrome Certification: key to safe and efficient aerodrome operations

The international civil aviation network carries over four billion passengers around the world annually. In celebrating ICAO's 75th Anniversary Celebrations, we will be highlighting some of the crucial safety achievements that have enabled this. We hope you follow our series throughout the year, and we encourage you to use the #ICAO75 hashtag to share your thoughts and memories with us through social media.


Every flight starts and ends at an Aerodrome.

From their humble beginnings as relatively simple landing strips, international aerodromes have evolved into highly complex facilities. A modern international aerodrome’s environment is characterized by vast areas, distinct airside (movement area) and landside areas, sophisticated technologies, dozens of square kilometres of runways, taxiways, aprons, service areas, a multitude of equipment and integrated systems, and the growing activity of third parties. Added to all of this, today’s aerodromes are facing, more than ever, increasing commercial pressures with greater public awareness and expectations on safety and efficiency issues.

ICAO long-term traffic forecasts indicate that global passenger traffic will almost double by 2032, reaching more than 6 billion passengers annually – compared to 3.5 billion in 2016 – and there will be more than 60 million flights. As the number of aerodromes serving international operations is not expected to increase significantly (and certainly will not correlate with the forecast growth in passenger volume and aircraft movements), there is a need for ensuring the sustainable accommodation of this unprecedented growth, while maintaining safety and regularity of operations.

Aerodrome certification has been a requirement in ICAO Annex 14 – Aerodromes, Volume I – Aerodrome Design and Operations since 2001. It is a proven and effective way of ensuring safe and efficient aerodrome operations, through a defined encompassing process which examines various components of the aerodrome, with an aim to verifying their compliance with international Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs).  

ICAO sets forth an array of provisions that encompass the whole lifecycle of the aerodrome certification process, from the establishment of a dedicated mechanism, to the planning of a certification project and its execution. These include, first and foremost, Annex 14, Volume I which sets the basic, high-level requirements in this area; the PANS-Aerodromes – Procedures for Air Navigation Services – Aerodromes (Doc 9981), which details a thorough global procedure for aerodrome certification; and the Manual on Certification of Aerodromes (Doc 9774) which provides guidance material supporting the SARPs and the PANS procedures. Furthermore, these three main documents are also supported by more than 20 other manuals which provide further guidance on specific subsets related to the aerodrome certification process, including, among others, aerodrome planning, design, rescue and firefighting, wildlife management, visual aids, obstacles control and more.

During a thorough certification process, aerodrome regulators and operators verify that the aerodrome’s facilities, design, equipment and operational procedures comply with relevant SARPs, thereby ensuring safe operations and supporting optimization of aerodrome capacity and efficiency.

According to Annex 14, Volume I, States shall certify the international aerodromes in the areas under their jurisdiction, through an established mechanism. The certification process is outlined in the PANS-Aerodromes (Doc 9981). Generally,  it starts with a submission, by the aerodrome operator, of a formal application to the national authority responsible for civil aviation, which includes basic information on the aerodrome operator (to whom the certification will be granted in the end of a successful certification process), the aerodrome itself and its facilities, and the intended operations. It continues with a thorough review by the authority of the aerodrome manual, the key document submitted by the aerodrome operator, which details the day-to-day procedures for the operation of the aerodrome, as well as information pertaining to its planning and design.

The process is followed by technical inspections and on-site verification by the authority of the aerodrome facilities and operational procedures, including its safety management system,  in order to complete the analysis and ensure compliance with applicable provisions, as well as the appropriateness of operating procedures. The process ends with the granting of the aerodrome certification, which may include details on specific operations-related features or limitations arising from the certification process, information on major facilities, and the validity of the certificate.

Of particular importance is the conduct, as part of the certification process, of compatibility studies and safety assessments as outlined in the PANS-Aerodromes, in order to address operational issues in a sustainable way, to facilitate the accommodation of new larger or more demanding aircrafts by the aerodrome, and to develop operational procedures and operating restrictions, if needed.

ICAO provides ongoing support to Member States in the area of aerodrome certification. This assistance is aimed at capacity building and implementing aerodrome certification worldwide, and primarily includes assistance to States in transposing ICAO provisions into their national regulations, conducting gap analyses, and addressing operational issues revealed in the certification process.

This carried out through continuous dialogue with States, direct support by ICAO Regional Offices, the organization and delivery of regional workshops and seminars on aerodrome certification and operations, and also the implementation of aerodrome certification projects by ICAO’s Technical Cooperation Bureau (TCB).

About the author

Avner Shilo is a Technical Officer at the ICAO Airport Operations and Infrastructure Section, responsible for aerodrome operations matters, including aerodrome certification, and the aerodrome operations-related working groups of the ICAO Aerodrome Design and Operations Panel (ADOP). He has 15 years’ experience in aviation as an Air Traffic Controller, Aerodrome inspector and manager of an Aerodrome section, involved in aerodrome design, planning, certification, and inspection. He possesses a BA and MA in environmental studies.